So I was talking to Brian Damage, comedian, musician and artist…
“I started as a drummer,” he told me, “because my dad brought home a drum kit. I joined a group and our first gig was for Butty Sugrue. He had put on a Muhammad Ali fight in Dublin in 1972, but he was really an Irish circus strongman who used to pull buses with his teeth and, in London, he ran the Wellington pub in Shepherd’s Bush.”
Butty reportedly died trying to carry a fridge up stairs at the Wellington pub.
So it goes.
“The pub was the size of a tennis court,” Brian Damage told me, “and Butty used to put on cabaret. The gigs used to be full of Irishmen – lots of navvies – standing. His wife was an actress and her agent also represented people like Nicholas Parsons, Joe Lynch (who was a big star at the time because of his TV series Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width) and Diana Dors (a major British film star). So you would get Diana Dors and Nicholas Parsons playing to a big room of Irish navvies in Shepherds Bush.”
“Nicholas Parsons was doing a stand-up act at the time?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” Brian told me. “There was this tennis court sized room full of Irishmen and he’d tell a joke, then say: Right, that didn’t go down very well. But, of course, being Irish, it probably went over your heads… Fuck me, how they booed him!”
“He played there more than once?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” said Brian. “He was very persistent. It’s an admirable trait.”